Portsmouth offers to use COVID-19 relief funds to give residents direct payments


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Eligible residents of the city of Portsmouth may soon find themselves receiving cash payments thanks to the US bailout.

City leaders have offered to use $ 5 million of their share of more than $ 56.8 million from the last round of federal COVID-19 relief funding to deliver programs that aim to either provide direct payments to residents, to provide tax breaks and even incentives to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine.

The $ 1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress in March gives local governments the flexibility to spend money on a wide variety of needs, including improving infrastructure, helping businesses and economic development initiatives.

The plan has yet to be approved by city council. So board members are always debating how best to use the money.

So far, Portsmouth is the only local government in Hampton Roads to offer direct payments to families without any strings attached.

To be eligible for monthly payments, a family of two or more must not be eligible for any other public assistance, according to Portsmouth City Manager Angel Jones.

While a family of two earns between about $ 28,000 and $ 35,000 per year, a family of three between about $ 36,000 and $ 43,000 per year, and a family of four or more between $ 44,000 and $ 60,000 per year, they would be eligible to receive monthly payments of $ 500. per month, according to Jones.

“These are your restaurant workers, your employees,” Jones said.

One-time payments of $ 500 for two years are offered for social assistance recipients.

While Jones does not yet have details of how families are chosen, a similar program tested in Arlington County, known as The Arlington Guarantee, provides $ 500 in cash relief to 200 low-income working families in Arlington each month for 18 months.

Other proposed programs would expand seniors’ eligibility to take advantage of the Seniors Tax Relief Program and launch an Elderly Care Credit Program that rewards seniors who have received the COVID-19 vaccine in cards. – $ 100 pharmacy gifts.

The final idea is to get young people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 by offering $ 50 gift cards.

“I support anything that helps our residents,” said Mayor Shannon Glover when asked if he supports the proposals.

Some city council members questioned whether direct payments should be prioritized over the city’s maintenance backlog.

Specifically, there is debate as to whether $ 8.5 million should be spent on finishing the Portsmouth sea wall replacement project and water tower refurbishment.

Deputy city manager Mimi Terri said “the rubber has met the road” in terms of the city’s postponing maintenance. She pointed out that water and sewer tariffs are still expected to rise 5% year over year in an attempt to catch up.

“It would be considered a direct payment to our citizens if they didn’t need a 5% increase, if we could use the funds for it,” City Councilor Lisa Lucas-Burke said in the recent meeting.

However, Deputy Mayor De’Andre Barnes believes all access funds should go to programs for individuals and youth.

“With everything going on in our town with our kids right now, we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we don’t invest in our kids, invest in our community, invest in the people of Portsmouth “said Barnes.

A vote on the plan is expected next month.

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